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CHULAK: Marijuana should be legalized eventually

Opinions Column: The Hard Truth

The use, possession, sale, cultivation and transportation of marijuana is illegal under federal law in the United States. In accordance with the Controlled Substance Act, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) classifies cannabis or marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” This puts marijuana in the same classification as much more lethal drugs like LSD and ecstasy and on an even higher classification than prescription pain killers like OxyContin. Although lawmakers have claimed that marijuana has no acceptable medical use, it has been shown to alleviate chronic pain, inflammation and seizures in addition to being used to treat mental health disorders, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and drug addiction, as well as diseases, such as cancer and multiple sclerosis (MS). The use of marijuana as a medicine and treatment has been widely accepted in the medical community, but since the drug is classified by the federal government as a Schedule 1 drug, conducting longterm research on the mental and physical effects of marijuana has been nearly impossible. Even as controlled substances containing alcohol that have no known health benefits are widely used, critics warn of the immense dangers that the legalization of marijuana may impose. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "excessive alcohol use led to approximately 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) each year in the United States from 2006 - 2010." Alcohol was also illegal at one point, and we saw then just as we do now what a failed prohibition looks like. 

Yet even as marijuana legalization has become a highly politicized discussion, the federal government has allowed states to legalize marijuana and to put their own regulations in place. Twenty-nine states have legalized medical marijuana, while eight states including the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use and purchase of marijuana. In New Jersey, medical marijuana has been legal since 2010, and Governor-elect Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) and New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney have pledged to legalize marijuana within the first 100 days of the Murphy administration. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced legislation in August that would remove marijuana from the list of Schedule 1 drugs, making it legal at the federal level. Marijuana legalization has become popular in New Jersey and throughout the country. A Gallup poll shows that 64 percent of Americans support the legalization. 

Although the obvious medical benefits and growing popularity of marijuana are both grounds for legalization, we cannot ignore the social implications and criminal justice aspect of ending the prohibition on marijuana. The War on Drugs has been a massive failure that has misallocated law enforcement resources to combating nonviolent drug offenses. A report published by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) showed that "between 2001 and 2010, there were over 8 million pot arrests in the U.S" (52% of drug arrests in the U.S.), costing us approximately $3.6 billion dollars per year. This is money that could have instead been used to enforce consequences for more serious crimes and to improve police and community relations. The fact of the matter is that the majority of arrests associated with marijuana use are nonviolent drug offenses. But these arrests have a significant impact on the individual’s personal and professional life. An employer is much less likely to hire a felon with a drug offense on their record or someone who has served time in prison. It can also be difficult to take out a loan or apply for social programs. The aforementioned ACLU report has shown that people of color are disproportionately targeted by local law enforcement and DEA officials. The report states that a Black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Black people and white people use marijuana at similar rates. The war on drugs has been a failure that has wasted millions of tax payer dollars to enforce a policy that overwhelms the judicial system and disproportionately targets marginalized populations. These unnecessary arrests separate families, divide communities and reinforce negative stereotypes — all to prevent citizens from using a drug that has not been proven to have negative effects on crime or society. 

The time has come for us to accept marijuana legalization as an inevitable step toward social equality and responsible policy making. As the results of legalization efforts throughout the country become more evident, the paradigm surrounding cannabis will quickly shift. We are now at the point where there is no longer a question of if marijuana will be legalized but rather a matter of when.

Daniel Chulak is a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior majoring in environmental and business economics with a minor in German. His column, "The Hard Truth," runs on alternate Thursdays.


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